By Brenda Flanagan
Joseph Cardinal Tobin walked past some 2,000 people — including Gov. Chris Christie and other dignitaries — crammed into Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
He gave his beaming mom, Marie, a kiss and climbed the altar steps to take his place as the new spiritual leader of the Newark Archdiocese. First, Papal Nuncio Christophe Pierre read the letter from Pope Francis.
“From the fullness of our apostolic authority, we appoint you metropolitan archbishop of Newark,” he said.
Tobin accepted the pope’s mandate to become Newark’s sixth archbishop — and as custom demands, displayed it for official approval — but then kept walking and showed it to his new flock. They loved it.
Tobin’s now shepherd to 1.5 million Catholics — more than 20 percent Hispanic, almost as many African-Americans — so diverse mass is celebrated in 20 languages. Thankfully, 64-year-old Joseph Cardinal Tobin speaks five of them.
“The church has called me to serve the Archdiocese of Newark. It is a daunting proposition. Not because of the size, rich history or wonderful diversity of this portion or the vineyard, rather this appointment reminds me, the stakes are incredibly high,” he said.
Tobin’s taking over a 163-year-old archdiocese in desperate need of healing, one traumatized during former Archbishop John Myers’ controversial tenure.
Three years ago, Myers faced allegations he failed to stop Michael Fugee — an abusive priest — from attending youth retreats despite the priest’s agreement with a county prosecutor to avoid kids. Another case just surfaced, again involving an alleged predatory priest linked to Newark. Myers also scandalized Catholics by spending more than a half million dollars to build a lavish addition to his New Jersey retirement home.
Tobin revealed himself as a humble agent of change.
“So with the confident belief that my assignment to this archdiocese is part of the saving plan of God, I can say to my beloved brothers and sisters of this church — rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice because God is with us,” he said.
Tobin’s the oldest of 13 kids born in Detroit and led the Redemptorist order, which takes a vow of poverty. He and Pope Francis became fast friends more than a decade ago and he’s known as a humble, personable guy who loves to work out at the gym. He’s apparently very in sync with Francis’ emphasis on humility, service to the poor, defense of immigrants and multiculturalism.
“I thank God for summoning me to the Archdiocese of Newark. I’m grateful to all of you for your warm welcome,” he said.
Cardinal Tobin is the youngest U.S. cardinal. He tweets — his twitter handle is @JoeTobin. In this diverse and damaged archdiocese — populated by the very wealthy and the abjectly poor — he has said that his first job will be to listen.